History | Mission


The Belcourt Theatre's mission is to engage, enrich, and educate through innovative film programming in our historic theatre, our community, and beyond.



The Belcourt Theatre is a unique Nashville treasure with a vibrant historic past and deep roots in the community. Today, the Belcourt is a nonprofit cultural institution dedicated to presenting the best of independent, documentary, world, repertory and classic cinema. The Belcourt provides opportunities for people of all ages to discover, explore and learn through the power of film. We cultivate and build on the powerful sense of shared experience that audiences can achieve — taking advantage of our building’s physical character and location in the heart of a lively Nashville neighborhood. At the same time, we work with community partners throughout Nashville to bring inspiring films to children and young people with our Mobile Movie Theatre. 

Since the re-opening of the theatre in 1999, over a half million people have visited the Belcourt to see more than 1,500 films from every corner of the globe. A favorite rental venue for concerts, the Belcourt stage is a special place to find musicians both established and emerging.

Today, the Belcourt Theatre thrives. Showing movies 365 days a year, the Belcourt is Nashville's choice for the best foreign, independent and classic films. And its national reputation continues to grow. The Belcourt is among a very select group of theaters chosen as a venue for the Sundance Film Festival USA Program. It is one of several national and international partners invited to participate in Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue Through Film, an initiative of the Sundance Institute, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.



1925 | Opens as the Hillsboro Theater to show silent movies, with a Kimball organ, 800 leather-covered seats, and Nashville’s largest stage


1930s | First performance of the Children’s Theatre of Nashville and home to the Grand Ole Opry (1934-1936)


1937 | Renamed Nashville Community Playhouse and is the site for community events, theatre and film


1966 | Renamed the Belcourt Cinema — and returns to its original use as a movie house


1993 | Carmike (and the Massey family) ends a successful 30-year lease of the Belcourt Theatre; Watkins Film joins Belcourt LLC to manage the building


1999 | Belcourt LLC closes the Belcourt, and the building is leased by the nonprofit Belcourt YES! group


2003 | Thomas Wills, a founding member of Belcourt YES!, purchases the theatre


2007 | Belcourt YES! group purchases the theatre from Mr. Wills and formalizes the name as the Belcourt Theatre Inc.


2008-2011 | Belcourt supporters give generously to fund new seats, draping, carpeting and aisle lighting


2014 | The Belcourt celebrates 15 years as a nonprofit cultural organization.


2015 | On May 18, 2015, the Belcourt turns 90 years old.





At the age of 16, Joseph "Papa Joe" Lightman immigrated with his family to the United States from Hungary. He opened his first Nashville business in 1887, and his endeavors included a fruit stand in Nashville’s downtown area, a confectioner's booth, a saloon, a dry goods store and a construction company. Papa Joe and his son, M. A. Lightman, built and owned the Hillsboro Theatre in 1925. The name and original entrance on 21st Avenue (then Hillsboro Road) are still marked by a sign above the building now occupied by the Villager Tavern. After several changes of ownership, multiple uses and physical modifications, it was named the Belcourt Theatre in 1966.


Connecting the Belcourt’s history with its future, the Papa Joe Lightman Award honors individuals whose significant and exceptional contributions of energy, resources and passion help the Belcourt keep alive and well Papa Joe’s vision of a vibrant theatre in the heart of Hillsboro Village. The Belcourt is indebted to current and past honorees for their hard work, their vision and their support.


2015 | Donna Drehmann
2014 | Randy Rayburn
2013 | Edward D. Lanquist Jr.
2012 | Mark Chalos and David Maddox
2011 | H.G. Webb
2010 | Joan Cheek and Mimi Manzler
2009 | Melissa Taylor
2008 |Tom Wills
2007 | Kellie Conn and F. Clark Williams, Jr.
2006 | Pat Bullard
2005 | Jayne Gordon
2004 | Laura Ellis, Scott Manzler, and Will Cheek III
2003 | Chase Cole